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Let’s hope Syracuse football didn’t just miss its opportunity

Trying to put perspective on a game we should’ve won but didn’t.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Two weeks ago, we were 4-0 and dreaming of every big opportunity out ahead of us. One week ago, we were trying to see the silver lining on a close, late loss at Clemson.

But after the Syracuse Orange laid an egg and looked awful in a 44-37 overtime loss to a bad Pittsburgh Panthers team yesterday, you can feel hownthe air could come out of the balloon a bit — and seems to be already in some corners of the fan base.

Losses are never great, but you can defend a four-point defeat at the No. 2 team in the nation. If you’re rounding the corner, that close loss leads to a win the following week and the ship’s righted. You’re 5-1, you’re potentially ranked and there’s a positivity surrounding the program that you’re making the jump we’ve been hoping for.

But instead, this team took a step back on Saturday. We don’t know if it’s a permanent one or just a temporary setback just yet. But losing in OT to Pitt the way we did — completely failing to stop a run-centric team and looking out of sync on offense — does begin to set off some mild alarm bells. Syracuse started great, played poorly, then rebounded before settling into mediocrity. The finish, a risky and unnecessary jump ball, was a microcosm of the Eric Dungey experience, but far from the only reason we lost the game. SU’s mistakes absolutely littered this one throughout.

Worse still, many carried over from the previous loss to Clemson. Teams suffer from “hangovers” after close defeats or wins all the time, but this was the worst kind because it showed what went wrong then could continue to go wrong again. The Tigers ran all over us, and so did Pitt. Penalties and uninspired play-calling were big parts of the loss to Clemson, and they certainly factored in here.

NCAA Football: Syracuse at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s those lingering effects that showed up late last year (the Wake Forest game and beyond) that rendered the closing weeks of the 2017 season so unwatchable. We don’t want to extrapolate out what we’ve seen in the last two fourth quarters to the rest of this season just yet. Still, you can’t be blamed for thinking about it in one way or another.

Could Syracuse miss its opportunity here?

The bye week is well-timed, as is a visit from a lowly North Carolina squad at home when we return to the field. And there’s potential a 5-2 Syracuse team is able to completely right the ship and leap up to those heights just the same should they upset currently-unbeaten NC State.

But it’s now easier to at least see how this all goes wrong. How 4-0 turns into 4-4, or worse. And how a bowl game maybe slips from this team’s grasp for the third straight season under Dino Babers.

That doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to at all. It just means the possibility is more realistic.

We won’t know the answer on whether or not Syracuse just missed its opportunity for at least a couple more weeks, but until then, I’ll choose to keep the faith. As mentioned previously, sometimes you make the leap and other times, it comes to you to some extent. That still requires you to take advantage of opportunities, though. And if Syracuse has progressed to the level we believe — and has proven itself to on the field most weeks — then they’ll respond accordingly.

If nothing else, maybe we just misread what the opportunity is for Syracuse right now. Maybe those eight- and nine-win dreams were fiction. Perhaps we rushed to be “back” for the umpteenth time when we just weren’t there yet.

If we’re resetting expectations (or really, rightsizing them back to what we thought could happen back in August), let’s start with six wins and go from there. That, for now, could be the opportunity. Then let’s see if another, greater one presents itself afterward. And whichever one of those plateaus is within reach, let’s just hope we don’t — or didn’t — just miss the Orange’s opportunity to accomplish more in 2018.